writing exercises


About a Leaf

This prompt comes courtesy of Lita Kurth.

A student of mine had taken a class from Kate Braverman who, according to her recollection and my flawed memory, brought in a bouquet of autumn leaves, handed them out to students, and had them write about what the color evoked.

I have, over the years, turned this into a three-part exercise which seems to work especially well for beginning writers. I take random, absolutely ordinary, green leaves from my backyard—geranium, bamboo, plum, grass, basil, ivy—and bring them to class. I hand each student one and assure them that I did not choose the leaves for their beauty but for their typical everydayness. Then I give them the following instructions, but only one instruction at a time:

  • Regard this leaf and describe it in great detail (size—use estimated numbers—color, shape, flaws, all its little parts) until you notice something (the part about noticing something came from Damon Knight’s book Creating Short Fiction). Describe the discovery.

  • Now compare it to things. Compare it to multiple things. Compare the parts of it to things.

  • Now write TO the leaf, anything from a respectful letter to a rant.

  • Finally, let the leaf write back.

Lita Kurth (MFA Pacific Lutheran University) has had work published in Fjords Review, Brain,Child, Main Street Rag, Tikkun,NewVerseNews, Blast Furnace, eliipsis…literature and art, Compose, Redux, Raven Chronicles, Tattoo Highway,Composite Arts, Verbatim Poetry, the Santa Clara Review, Vermont Literary Review, DNA, and others. Her CNF, “Pivot,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her CNF “This is the Way We Wash the Clothes,” presented at the Working Class Studies conference, 2012, won the 2014 Diana Woods Memorial Award (summer-fall 2014) and appeared in Lunchticket 2014. She contributes to Tikkun.org/tikkundaily, TheReviewReview.net, and classism.org. In 2013, she co-founded the Flash Fiction Forum, a reading series in San Jose. She has several times considered her novel,The Rosa Luxemburg Exotic Dance Collective, to be finished.